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Mark Murphys House of Java
Volume 2 is a collection of short stories in black and white comic book
format. Murphy draws with economy using
strong lines. His stories mostly feature
people in their twenties and thirties, the sort that sit around coffee houses
on a regular basis. Murphys work is
impressive, capturing awkward or poignant moments in his characters lives.
May 27th is about the
interaction between Connie, a social worker intern, and her first client, Ray
Bennett. Ray is charged with possession
of a controlled substance with intent to sell.
Connie is young and ambitious, getting her degree while working as a
waitress to pay her bills. Ray seems to
lack any ambition except to get by and get high. Connie helps him get into a program which enables him to avoid
being put in jail before his trial date and instead to live at home, with his
girlfriend, on the condition that he enters into counseling with her and he works
twenty-five hours a week in a work program.
Despite this opportunity, Ray is ungrateful and unenthusiastic about his
dish-washing job. Connie, who works
hard and sacrifices her social life for her plans to devote herself to helping
others, is frustrated by Rays attitude.
Its clear by the end that she has lost patience with Ray, and Ray seems
likely to do some significant jail time.
Their counseling didnt make much difference to him, and their time
together seems like a missed opportunity.
But maybe the differences between them were too great to establish real
There are similar themes in two
other stories, Tide Pools and Steven, in which people from different
backgrounds get to know each other through a somewhat random meeting and then
move out of each others lives. These
interactions lead the characters to reflect on their lives and the choices they
have made, and wonder whether they are deceiving themselves about their plans
and justifications for their decisions.
Its a powerful narrative form, although Murphy risks using it a little
But the three other stories in the
collection are rather different. The
Paper Route, which appears to be a short series of two stories, is about a
young boy, Nathan, who lives in Wichita Falls.
His friend Perry, who is a little older than Nathan, is a big fan of
heavy rock bands like Kiss, Aerosmith and Styx. The two stories about small town life show how Nathans character
forms in reaction to other peoples attitudes.
They are nicely told, and are drawn in a rather livelier and fun style
from the other works in this collection.
The final piece is Burial, is the
darkest in the book. It tells the story
of twenty-five year old Jason; his current relationship has just fallen apart
and he returning home after seven years for the wedding of his old friend
Karen. Jason and his old group sit
around the coffee house talking about the past. Jason and Karen tell the story of a hasty nighttime burial they
saw years ago, and as a result, the group goes and starts digging up the
past. This leads to a mystery that
Jason is intent on solving, but when he finally discovers the truth, he is
shocked and disturbed. I found this
story less successful than the others in this collection, maybe because it
tries to bear more emotional weight and ends up being a little
comparisons to make are with Adrian Tomine and Daniel Clowes, both of whom also
stylishly depict the alienation of young people and the fragmentation of meaning
in modern culture. Murphys approach
doesnt quite achieve the aesthetic purity of Tomine and Clowes his work is
less stylized and more rooted in everyday experience. Nevertheless, House of Java Volume 2 is a strong piece of
work and shows Murphy is among the best graphic storytellers working today.
Link: NBM Publishing
© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island.
He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring
how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help
foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the